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Can Anyone Stop Dublin In 2016?

Manage the hype, manage the media, manage the crowd expectation, manage the players, and Jim Gavin’s Dublin will be crowned All Ireland champions for 2016.

The only hurdle I can see is, who will manage Jim Gavin? Gavin comes across as a very measured, very level headed individual, who will not panic under pressure. The one problem for Gavin is not the opposition he will face next year, but in keeping all his very talented panel of players happy and content.

Serial winning managers make the tough calls, who to pick, who to drop, who to risk and how to win. The big call next year might be who to risk.

Eoghan O’Gara, Paul Mannion, Cormac Costello, John Small and Conor McHugh are all available next season to make an impact and to give more selection headaches to Jim Gavin.

The physical O’Gara back from injury, the very talented Mannion back from his travels, Costello another year older, McHugh from the U-21s, and Small ready to make the step up this year, will all be keen to catch the managers eye next year.

Gavin had a big problem last year towards the latter end of the championship; a misfiring Dean Rock and Stephen Cluxton from placed balls. Rock’s overall play was poor and he seemed to lose confidence, while Cluxton had been shaky all season, whether underlying injuries had effected his striking of the ball, something certainly had effected his kicking of frees.

Do the management team now have to make a decision on sticking with Rock, for his free taking, or go for the more robust O’Gara? Is John Small too good a defender to keep on the bench, or would it be unwise to dislodge Cian O’Sullivan from his centre back berth and move him elsewhere?

The big question for every successful team is how to improve on the previous season. Does this mean sticking with the same team that bought you success with a bit of tweaking, or sweeping changes ?

The only sweeping change being done is by their main rivals, as they try to figure out how to beat the All Ireland champions.

Mayo have gone back to the drawing board again with a players’ revolt and insistence on a new management team.

Kerry’s experience is slowly but surely retiring, with the likes of Aidan O’Mahony, Paul Galvin, Marc Ó Sé, Kieran Donaghy and even the ‘Gooch’ retiring or contemplating retirement in the near future. How good are the likes of Paul Geaney and Stephen O’Brien when they are really asked to stand up? Only time will tell.

Donegal will be dangerous on any one off game, but the mileage is showing on fellas like Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher. Next year would surely be the last trip to the well.

Tyrone for me are the most interesting team next year, with a good mixture of youth and experience. The conveyor belt of underage talented players has started to crank up again. They looked like a team to me last year that bought into Mickey Harte’s defensive system and counter at pace. Players like Mattie Donnelly who has taken over the Sean Kavanagh role of ‘play me anywhere and I’ll give you everything’. Sean Kavanagh is still a vital cog for Tyrone,and where to play him next year could be Mickey Harte’s nugget.

I also feel that Jim Gavin knows that these are his main rivals and the rest of the pack will be brushed aside. He will learn more from the National League in March than the Leinster Championship in June. Testing players like John Small, Conor McHugh and introducing Paul Mannion and Eoghan O’Gara back within the competitive environment could be worth more than the two points on offer for a league victory.

To his credit, Jim Gavin has history here. How many of us had heard of Brian Fenton this time last year ? Not only did he win the man of the match award on All Ireland final day, but he kept Dublin’s best midfielder of the last few years Michael Darragh MacAuley on the bench.

Who will be the Brian Fenton of 2016? This is the motivation he can give to his younger squad players next year. ‘Show me what you can do in training, practice games, national league matches, and I will pick you.’

The older players like Bernard Brogan, Stephen Cluxton, Diarmuid Connelly and Paul Flynn have nothing to prove. They have their All Ireland medals and All Stars. The driving force for them is to go down as all time great Dublin players. To be mentioned in the same breath as Jimmy Keavenny, Brenard Brogan Snr, and Brian Mullins is now only more more All Ireland away. They also know such lofty notions would be immediately flattened by Gavin, where you earn your place on his Dublin team, and unlike before no superstars need apply.

With all the talent at his disposal, Gavin still knows that an injury to a few of his key players would be detrimental. Cluxton, O’Carroll, McMahon, O’Sullivan, MacAuley, Flynn and Bernard Brogan are the spine and engine of his team. These players have been to the forefront of Dublin’s success story, but Gavin will be ruthless in assessing the hunger and freshness of these players come All Ireland quarter final time.

We all know how difficult it is to win back-to-back All Irelands, even Dublin have experienced this. However, with the sheer depth and competition for places in this current team, along with game changers in numerous positions, I cannot see any team competing with the Dubs in 2016.

The competition are evolving while the All Ireland champions move up to another level. A level where every position is covered with like for like players. Tactically, they can run at you, play it long, play it wide, and if that doesn’t work why not bring on one or two All Stars from the bench who are looking to prove a point.

Sport always throws up surprises, drama and unforeseen circumstances, that’s why we love it so much. However, the football championship is getting more predictable each year. The cream usually rises to the top, unless a wounded Kerry, a rejuvenated Mayo, a one last fling Donegal, or a coming of age Tyrone can come with a plan to counter the Dublin onslaught, I can only see one winner of our Football championship next year.

“Success is no accident, it is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele

Donal Cashin, Pundit Arena.

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